Once a fixture on Melbourne’s racing scene, this vibrant suburb has now moved on.

Named after the famous British racecourse, Ascot Vale has since grown up and left the track — its own racecourse of the same name was transformed into housing and parklands in the mid-1940s — evolving into a vibrant community filled with parks, on-trend shops, cafes and restaurants.  

Health and wellness is high on the local radar here, with a number of venues to be uncovered. The Urban Wellness Project, a health food store and natural therapies clinic, sells nutritional and eco-friendly products that support small-scale farmers and producers around the globe. For organic fruit, vegetables and other grocery items, pop in to Happy Apple Greengrocer. Then, about 100 metres down the road, there’s Mister Nice Guy’s Bakeshop, a popular allergy-friendly cafe where you’ll find an extensive selection of tasty sweets and savoury meals free from eggs, dairy, lactose, cochineal, gelatine, soy, gluten, wheat, corn and fructose — there are low-GI offerings, too. It also dishes up quirky deli items like hot dogs, burgers and milkshakes featuring faux meat, fish and dairy, so you can enjoy your favourites while respecting the environment.

While you’re here, gather a takeaway bundle to enjoy within the large and leafy surrounds of Fairbairn Park. Situated beside the Maribyrnong River, this vast open space is filled with family-friendly facilities and activities, including picnic areas with barbecues, eight sports fields, a golf and tennis centre and, coming soon, a multi-purpose sports pavilion. Dogs can go off leash here, and there are lots of trails for walking and cycling, with some that lead to the river for fishing and canoeing.

If you’ve got a small family member (aged between one and eight) looking for some fun with kids their own age, take them to Tickity Boo. There are trampolines, a two-storey play structure, mini car-racing track, slides and ball pits, as well as separate areas for toddlers.  

Afterwards, if you’re looking to sink a few cold ones, head to Jimmy’s Tap & Barrel, a newly opened craft beer bar with 12 beers on tap and more than a hundred bottled varieties, as well as ciders, wines from across Australia and a variety of spirits, all of which can be enjoyed inside or in the beer garden out the back. Another popular watering hole pouring craft beers, boutique wines and whiskeys is Ascot Vale Cellars: Craft Beers, Ciders & Boutique Wines. Added bonus? There’s live music on Sundays.  

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For a gem hidden in plain sight, head to Arcadia Gastronomique, with its emerald walls and wood panelling. Considered a pioneer of Spanish food in the northwest of Melbourne, its vast selection of tapas, as well as paella, churros and sangria, will leave you wholly satisfied. 

Hoping to do a spot of shopping while you’re in Ascot Vale? Wander down Union Road, the suburb’s popular shopping street, and check out Willow Design, a favourite with locals and filled with gifts, contemporary homewares, soaps and candles, jewellery, accessories, shoes, beauty and skincare products. For fashion and accessories by local designers, head across the street and enter Two Byrds. You’ll find stylish, comfortable and practical women’s clothing and a variety of men’s grooming products and leather accessories.

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